Penn State Power

What happened at Penn State is a terrible picture of our fallen humanity. It is also a graphic example of what a powers and principalities looks like in practice. Charles Pierce, Esquire contributor writing at Grantland, has a fascinating piece on the institutional nature of what happened:

It happens because institutions lie. And today, our major institutions lie because of a culture in which loyalty to "the company," and protection of "the brand" — that noxious business-school shibboleth that turns employees into brainlocked elements of sales and marketing campaigns — trumps conventional morality, traditional ethics, civil liberties, and even adherence to the rule of law. It is better to protect "the brand" than it is to protect free speech, the right to privacy, or even to protect children.

If Mike McQueary had seen a child being raped in a boardroom or a storeroom, he wouldn't have been any more likely to have stopped it, or to have called the cops, than he was as a graduate assistant football coach at Penn State. With unemployment edging toward double digits, and only about 10 percent of the workforce unionized, every American who works for a major company knows the penalty for exercising his personal freedom, or his personal morality, at the expense of "the company." Independent thought is discouraged. Independent action is usually crushed. Nobody wants to damage the brand. Your supervisor might find out, and his primary loyalty is to the company. Which is why he got promoted to be your supervisor in the first place.

...It is not a failure of our institutions so much as it is a window into what they have become — soulless, profit-driven monsters, Darwinian predators with precious little humanity left in them. Penn State is only the most recent example. Too much of this country is too big to fail.

Pierce cuts through the hand wringing about collegiate athletics and accuses us all of living in the same world, a world of monstrous organizations and systems that have a life of their own, promising success and security in return for loyalty. This demand for loyalty though must always cross God's demands on us to live. That is one way to understand idolatry, I think, because to ensure it's own life, the powers and principalities must save their own lives, not lose them, and they do so at the expense of their own people, always at the expense of the most vulnerable. Even the judge who set Sandusky’s bail remarkably low is a donor to his non-profit organization. –everywhere one would go in State College PA, this power is at work, systemically, to both preserve the brand and protect its own.

The church in America needs to get better at identifying and fighting against the powers if are going to follow Jesus into his kingdom. How? A confidence to blow the whistle knowing we lose jobs and face shame, because our future is safe with Him? A willingness to yield our own privilege to protect the vulnerable? What role does prayer hold in such a terrible world?

I appreciate Pierce calling out “branding”. Take note church. The most insidious powers are the religious ones, because they look to our untrained eyes like God’s will.


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